Turbulence, tranquility and teamwork: Katy Wang and Charlotte Ager create a serene animated collaboration

Responding to Wendell Berry’s serene poem The Peace of Wild Things, Charlotte Ager and Katy Wang leave you feeling at peace in their triumphant collaboration for non-profit, On Being Project.

27 October 2020


Hailing from the same Kingston University Illustration Animation course, illustrator Charlotte Ager and animation director Katy Wang didn’t cross paths immediately, but soon became great admirers of one another. “As each year went by she got better and better, her work becoming more evocative and poetic,” Katy tells us of Charlotte, hoping to eventually have the chance to physically enliven her work. Similarly, Charlotte recalls “watching [Katy’s] first year film Mind the Gap in awe,” still thrilled by “its sense of rhythm and pace”.

The dream duo have finally come together as a result of the On Being Project; a non-profit initiative aiming to be a source of positivity and happiness for the holistic wellbeing of people through writing, podcasts and radio shows. Contacted with the opportunity to respond to the poem The Peace of Wild Things by Wendell Berry, the result is a charmingly pastoral animation. Following and visualising the poem’s comforting, yet stark discussion of contentment and nature, the short leaves you wanting to jump into the film and lie beside the flowers and birds within Charlotte’s peaceful tableaus.


Charlotte Ager and Katy Wang: The Peace of Wild Things for the On Being Project (Copyright © Charlotte Ager and Katy Wang, 2020)

“I’ve been getting more and more into collaborating with others this year,” Katy explains of the beginnings of this project, “and I felt very excited at the thought of potentially trying to work with an illustrator for this project.” Despite initially considering how she would illustrate the poem herself, Charlotte’s work immediately came to mind. “Nature is a big part of [Charlotte’s] personal work,” Katy explains, elaborating how the illustrator “often does drawings of solitary figures surrounded by and nestled within nature” – therefore a seemingly perfect match for Wendell Berry’s romantic verse.

“I was so flattered and excited to work on it,” Charlotte tells us, recalling how “when I left university I thought I could do, and wanted to do everything,” producing numerous animated works. However this process “never felt very natural, as I didn’t have the skills (or the patience!) to make things move in the way I wanted,” she tells It’s Nice That. The opportunity to work with Katy therefore was perfect, “because she could bring my work to life with such skill”.

The authenticity of this collaboration, and the pleasure that came from its production, is obvious in the film. Exuding a sense of joy and tranquility from both the technical side, it also evokes a sense of total ease and effortlessness in its visual outcome. This developed from rigorous experimentation prior to any storyboarding, with Katy explaining that, “originally, it was my intention to animate the film on the computer and then colour it on paper using paints and pastels,” to keep the animation as close to Charlotte’s physical work as possible. Unsure of how to initially approach this, the process began with Charlotte drawing some antecedent responses to the poem, and Katy using them as a colour test.


Charlotte Ager and Katy Wang: The Peace of Wild Things for the On Being Project (Copyright © Charlotte Ager and Katy Wang, 2020)


Charlotte Ager and Katy Wang: The Peace of Wild Things for the On Being Project (Copyright © Charlotte Ager and Katy Wang, 2020)

Although unhappy with initial tests, due to the apparent separation of character and their environment, and worried with the decision to colour in each frame by hand due to the timescale, Katy explains that a fresh perspective from her boyfriend helped her realise how to treat Charlotte’s illustration. Noting that the illustrator's characters show no outline or shape, but are instead carved from colour with all the brushstrokes directed around the individual figure, “It’s subtle,” she explains, “but it makes a huge difference.”

A “big lightbulb moment” for the animator, by then digitally colouring and animating Charlotte’s illustrations, “the character feels like it’s part of its surroundings rather than on top of them.” Consequently mirroring the tone of the poem, Charlotte adds that its narrative “felt like a hill, the increasing breathlessness of a steep incline, like when you let your worries gather pace, and then the relief of the decline and the stillness of looking over the view.” Experiencing a semi-meditative reaction to the piece, Charlotte visualises this response through illustrated detail, for instance how the water is significant in its instantly soothing appearance. Each of these visual decisions hope to symbolise the relief of reaching the base of the hill – “a respite.” 

As also reflected in the physicality of the animation, Katy’s transitions and movement richly contribute to the “big inhale and exhale,” feel the film evokes. “Her transitions always feel unexpected and poignant,” Charlotte dotingly describes. This works hand-in-hand with the film’s sound design by David Kamp, whose “emotional sound and music work really makes me feel like I can breathe out at the end when the last scene disappears from us,” adds Katy.


Charlotte Ager and Katy Wang: The Peace of Wild Things for the On Being Project (Copyright © Charlotte Ager and Katy Wang, 2020)

Considering Katy was working on the film throughout lockdown, the meaning of the poem understandably shifted for the animator. Like most of us, this isolated period has changed Katy’s relationship with the outdoors, a longing for which is palpable throughout the short.  “I’d never appreciated being outside and surrounded by trees and plants and grass as much as I have over the last few months,” she tells us, “as I’m sure so many others do too.” 

Following the poem’s narrative in being sombre and cautionary at the beginning, before reaching a turning point and concluding with a strong sense of serenity, Charlotte concludes that she hopes viewers feel rested, just as her character does within The Peace of Wild Things. Likening the slower pace of the short to one most will have experienced during our chaotic current climate, the film acts as “a reminder that maybe life doesn’t have to be so much of a rush,” hoping finally that “it makes people feel like going for a walk.”

Katy and Charlotte's contribution to the On Being Project is part of a wider series of animation, all of which can be viewed here.

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Katy Wang and Charlotte Ager: The Peace of Wild Things

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About the Author

Harry Bennett

After graduating from Winchester School of Art, studying graphic arts, Harry worked as a graphic designer before joining It’s Nice That as an editorial assistant in March 2020. He nows works as a freelance writer and designer, and is one half of Studio Ground Floor.

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